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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Koffmann's (London)

We would like to keep this brief - although we probably will not succeed - because there isn't much to say about Koffmann's at the Berkley Hotel: It is simply a place where you eat darn well and where you can be truly happy. We could finish here.

But of course we won't.

Freed from the constrictions of three Michelin star cooking (for he held 3* at the famous Tante Claire), the old man (just a manner of speaking, Pierre...), often - believe it or not - behind the stoves himself, with his brilliant team serves you dishes that, while backed by an immense culinary knowledge, are there not to comply with the formal fussiness and strictures of multistarred Michelin dining, nor to show you how clever, funny, artistic, inspired, etc. the chef is, but simply to please you, the customer. You are the centre of the experience at Koffmann's, you are the king and the chef cooks for you, not for himself.

This is not at all to say that food here is boring or drab. To the contrary, there is sometimes a gentle humour, like in this Squid Bolognese

where the squid has been meticulously sliced and reduced to tagliatelle, while the tentacles have been made into a ragout. Splendid savoury flavour and splendid, concentrated tomato sauce (only criticism: verging on the salty side).

The classic Scallops with ink:

are the embodiment of simplicity and elegance. Cooked until the exact second when they had to be removed from the heat, this is a triumph of sweet, salty and umami balance.  Some people overdo it with scallops in excessively complicated preparations, others underdo it (in the next review we'll provide an example). This is the just middle. This is wisdom.

In passing, can we say that the Koffmann breads are for us the best in London? For a French restaurant, of course, for who can beat good Italian breads? :) Strong in structure and in flavour, they have a lovely homemade feel, though of course they are technically perfect - and the "melting" quality of the flaky roll is lusciously decadent

We've been here several times, and of course we've tried the legendary pig's trotters, which are extraordinary as they say (although certainly not to everybody's taste because of the fatty gelatinous texture with not too much to contrast it, something that irks some people). In the colder months we also never miss the profoundly satisfying game pithiviers. But this report is from Summer (besides, you can find the trotters photographed and reviewed everywhere), so this time we go for something lighter. A clever seafood paella with some of the freshest and best molluscs you can find in London and lovely moisture with intense flavour.

And then a roast monkfish with lentils

The fish of excellent quality (by the way, all seafood is wild here) and cooked as you would expect, the lentils concentrating masses of flavour.

Among the desserts, we can never miss the stupendous Pistachio souffle':
It was partially destroyed by an otherwise superbly talented new member of staff who hadn't yet mastered the art of inserting the ice-cream in the souffle'... but this dessert is beyond destruction, it is indescribably good, really, go and try it.

The chef being an encyclopedia of French cuisine, this venue is also a splendid opportunity to sample some classics. This time we tried a Peach Melba,

exactly as you would expect it: a beautifully poached (white) juicy peach, vanilla icecream and raspberry puree, simple, light, elegant, delicious.

One word for the service. Over time we've seen various people come and go, but we've always felt very well treated by each and every team. The current team is particularly sweet, from the maitre d' down to the last waiter. On this occasion we were also very well advised by a confident, knowledgeable (and also enviably tanned) Sicilian sommelier.

We had three starters (the unpictured one was a gazpacho), two main courses, two desserts, a £32 wine, a £8.50 dessert wine, tap water, and we spent  less than £150. How did we do it? Well, there's a fantastic value lunch menu of three courses at £26, and we had one of those. And unless you plump for the reeeeally expensive dishes from the a la carte (Dover sole and Lobster will set you back £40 and more each, but now that we are in Scotland of course we do not need to have expensive seafood in London any more...), the dishes for choice are really not that expensive considering that you are in one of the most luxurious parts of London. The nice, interesting wine list, including carafes and by the glass, also offers wines for all pockets, from cheap bastards like us to Russian tycoons.

As feared, we didn't keep it brief in the end... For us, a meal at Koffman's represents the pure joy of eating simple (mind you, relatively speaking!) dishes prepared by a master. Many say this is bistro style, but it isn't quite that really - there is far more subtlety. His joy in cooking is evident, you can see and taste it, he must have transmitted it to his assistants. Unless you go there looking for 3* food or a revival of La Tante Claire, you too will be joyous, and your palate (if not you coronaries, unless you choose the lighter dishes, as we did...) will say a big thank you.



Kavey said...

I never dined at Tante Claire so the first time I experienced Pierre Koffmann's cooking was at the Selfridges popup. In fact, I went twice... it was so good!

I've only been to Koffmann's restaurant once, but keep meaning to go again. Soon, I think. Very soon!

Man-Woman said...

Same here, we never dined at the TC...but now his cuisine is hard to resist when we are in London!

Unknown said...

Really loved your Koffman's review. Pity you decided not to comeback and see us again.
In another life maybe?

Man-Woman said...

Really sorry Alexis (if you are still reading...) that we are publishing your comment so late - no ill-will, just an oversight on our part.

We aren't in London too often nowadays, and then mostly on Sundays. But if we are there midweek we'd love to come back (if we can find a table, that is!).

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